Paradox of the Active User & Tryability

Faithful reader Len responded to my last post by pointing out that tryability is akin to the Paradox of the Active User, a concept originated by John Caroll and Mary Beth Rosson. The “paradox of the active user” is the persistent use of inefficient procedures in interactive environments by experienced or even expert users when […]

Faithful reader Len responded to my last post by pointing out that tryability is akin to the Paradox of the Active User, a concept originated by John Caroll and Mary Beth Rosson.

The “paradox of the active user” is the persistent use of inefficient procedures in interactive environments by experienced or even expert users when demonstrably more efficient procedures exist.

In other words, people don’t take the time to figure out how the thing works before they go ahead and use it. They don’t read manuals, they don’t work through tutorials, they don’t always adapt when the interface changes. To get optimal efficiency with the application, they would do these things first, saving them a whole lot of time in the long run.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Carroll’s books: The Paradox of the Active User.

The paradox has something to do with ego: “I can figure this out without help”. But it’s also got an attention factor: “I don’t have time to figure this out”. Both are incredibly interesting symptoms of modern computing, and with both we end up trying to keep from being distracted by applications that could potentially make things much better for us.

Published: July 25th, 2005

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